5 Do's and Don'ts to Setting SMART Goals

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

SMART goals allow us to center our attention, energy, and time into the work that genuinely matters to an individual, organization, or both. Once we have a firm understanding of where one’s priorities should lie, we tend to take more time to develop effective strategies to achieve our goals, increasing motivation and productivity. SMART goals are also the first foundational step in evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychotherapy proven to help people with anxiety, PTSD, OCD, depression, and grief, to name a few.

It’s clear SMART goals can play an instrumental role in an individual’s personal and professional growth. The trick, however, is setting a goal that meets ALL the “SMART” criteria.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART is an acronym for "specific," "measurable," "attainable," "relevant," and "time-bound." This technique of goal setting is, as the acronym suggests, smart! Why? When done correctly, SMART goals help you or your team set clear intentions, establish benchmarks to measure progress, and cut out irrelevant tasks that no longer move the needle.

To set SMART goals, your goals need to be:

●     specific in nature – what exactly needs to be done

●     measurable – what are your KPIs to track success

●     attainable – are your KPIs realistically achievable

●     relevant – how does your goal help overarching organizational goals

●     time-bound – when are your action step deadlines and your final deadline

Every SMART goal should have these five characteristics to ensure the goals are achievable and useful. With that said, let's break down some of the common mistakes when writing SMART goals and how to avoid them.

5 Do's and Don’ts of SMART Goals

1.   Do Be Precise… Don’t Skip Any “Small Details”

When setting SMART goals, make sure they are “specific”. Using precise language allows you and your team to avoid ambiguity about what needs to be done, who needs to do what, and how often they need to do it.

For example, “Sarah and John will co-author a 5,000-word blog every two months, sharing their new research related to our brand. The intention, beyond increasing our brand awareness through thought leadership pieces and increasing website traffic, is to generate qualified sales leads.”

2.  Provide KPIs...Don’t Provide KPIs Unrelated to Your Intention

Once you have set a specific intention, the next step is to make it measurable. How else will you measure your success and show you deserve a raise? It’s important to identify the relevant and feasible data sources and outcomes to make it easier to measure and quantify success later.

Referring to the previous example, some might make the mistake of only setting KPIs related to how many people visit the blog (web traffic) or how many times someone cites their article or reaches out for an interview (thought leadership/brand awareness). You should definitely include KPIs around these to help measure all facets of success; however, you also need KPIs around the number of qualified sales leads each blog, or the aggregated blogs, brings in.

For example, “By the end of the year, blogs authored by Sarah and John will increase blog traffic by 10%, bringing in 1,000 unique website visitors. By the end of the year, all 6 of their blogs combined will bring in 20 qualified sales leads”

3. Do Make Your KPIs Reasonable...Don’t Aim Too Low or Too High

While every goal is attainable given enough time and effort, make sure you set realistic expectations given your resources and time. SMART goals aren’t designed to be fleshed out in a few minutes— you’ll have to spend time digging into your data, thinking about the time constraints surrounding other goals and obligations, etc. What you want to avoid is setting a random KPI of a 50% increase in sales leads by the end of Q1when you only reached 28% by Q3 of the previous year.

For example, “Sarah and John believe they can hit 20 qualified sales leads as the past two years with a well-less developed strategy, their work brought in 6qualified sales leads. Twenty is an aggressive jump, however, the content is likely to secure more press (published research) and the frequency will be increased from one every 6 months (handled solely by Sarah) to one every two months.”

4. Do Make Your Goals Matter to Everyone...Don’t Set Yourself Up for a “Who Cares?” or “No Way”

SMART goals should not only align with individual goals, even when related to professional development and growth but should align and support overarching organizational goals. If you do not know your organization’s annual goals— typically designed by founders, CEOs, and other C-Suites executives— you should ask where you can find them.  

Continuing with the earlier example, let’s assume one of your organization’s overall goals is to “accelerate business growth, increasing revenue by $1 million”. To make your goal relevant, Sarah and John should be able to say something like, “By bringing in 20 additional qualified sales leads, our sales team should convert 5 based on our 25%. conversion rate.  Based on our customers’ lifetime value of $5,000, SQLs from our work should move our revenue contribution from $0 to $25,000 in one year.” 

On the flip side, let’s say Sarah and John's conversion rates are much lower, the CLV is lower, and the revenue goal is higher. Bringing in $25,000 of revenue when your organizational goal is $10 million might not be worth the time these researchers will devote to this project.

5. Do Set Deadlines… Don’t be Vague or Unrealistic  

Finally, the “T” in SMART stands for time-bound. Deadlines are important; there’s no getting around that. A goal, especially a SMART goal, is not complete without deadlines. That means beginning to develop the action steps you need to take to achieve your goal and setting deadlines for milestones. Say more than Q3, but don’t push yourself into overexertion by setting deadlines only achievable by working overtime every day of the week.

And most importantly, remember to celebrate hitting those milestone deadlines! Setting deadlines throughout a long-term goal allows you to take a step back and recognize all the work you’ve accomplished, keeping your motivation and engagement at an all-time high!

How Do You Write a SMART Goal?

Now that you understand how to set SMART goals, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and begin the goal-setting process.

SPECIFIC: Be specific about the goal/s.

MEASURABLE: Think of the layers of KPIs to track your progress and measure success

ATTAINABLE: Ensure your specific and measurable goals are attainable, but not easy.

RELEVANT: Align your goals with your organizations.

TIME-BOUND: Set your own deadlines and stick to them.

Remember, you can follow all the“do’s” and “don'ts” and still not meet your goals. That’s why it’s imperative to not just write your goals out, but to re-visit them on a frequent basis. Asan individual, you should always be checking in with your KPIs and deadlines to see if you are on track or need to make adjustments. It is OK to make changes or re-strategize. You should meet with your supervisor at least every 6 months for a check-in, as well. If you need to set more realistic KPIs, you will have the data to show why they need to be reset. Or, perhaps organizational goals have shifted. You may not need to devote as much time to this goal now as previously thought— something almost everyone experienced at the start of the pandemic.

SMART goals can not only help accelerate your professional growth and standings within a company, but are proven to help improve overall wellbeing, in the workplace and at home. It may take more time to develop, but we can guarantee it’s worth your time.

Tom Finn

Chief Executive Officer

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